The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry
Rating: 5 Stars
Release Date: April 12, 2016
Genre: YA Historical Fiction
Dolssa is a young gentlewoman with uncanny gifts, on the run from an obsessed friar determined to burn her as a heretic for the passion she refuses to tame.
Botille is a wily and charismatic peasant, a matchmaker running a tavern with her two sisters in a tiny seaside town.
The year is 1241; the place, Provensa, what we now call Provence, France—a land still reeling from the bloody crusades waged there by the Catholic Church and its northern French armies.
When the matchmaker finds the mystic near death by a riverside, Botille takes Dolssa in and discovers the girl’s extraordinary healing power. But as the vengeful Friar Lucien hunts down his heretic, the two girls find themselves putting an entire village at the mercy of murderers.
The Passion of Dolssa is one of the best books I have ever read in my life. It is also one of the strangest books I’ve ever read.
At first I didn’t really like this book, but I think it’s because it made me feel so much it was a little jarring. Which makes so much sense, I know. But that is one thing I ended up really loving about this book. Berry’s writing is intoxicating; it puts you right in the world with the characters, and every sight, conflict and emotion they face is shoved in your face with incredible detail and feeling.
This book is called The Passion of Dolssa, but Dolssa is not the main character. Instead, Botille, a peasant and a village “matchmaker” is the narrator. Botille is the best kind of wonderfully mature, developed main character that we don’t see too often in YA. She cares deeply for her sisters and the people around her. She is selfless and caring, but she is also just a whole lot of fun. I loved her matchmaking escapades. I also absolutely loved her sweet, genuine and loving relationship with her sisters, who were each just as developed as she. I personally love sisterly relationships in YA, and I was so happy to read about their close and loving one. And there were villains that were more terrifying than almost any other I can think of, because they were a completely real and deceptively frightening part of history.
Even though Dolssa is not the main character, she propels the event of the plots and changes the lives of those around her. Dolssa’s character is based off that of many female mystics from the 13th century: girls who thought they had a special, intimate relationship with Christ, and as such, went about sharing His teachings and helping people. I thought Dolssa’s character was very, very interesting and complex. I had never heard about female mystics, and I loved learning about something new. There is also room for interpretation in her character and what she believes to be true, and it really made me think. The author does not have an agenda. But I also just loved Dolssa; she is sweet and kind and selfless, and I thought her internal and external struggles were really compelling.
The Passion of Dolssa is impeccably researched, and so all the historical details combined with the rich writing just made everything feel so real. Because of this I did learn a lot, but I also felt a lot, which for me is one of the most important things a book can do for a reader. The Passion of Dolssa nails that perfectly.
Also, this book is a page turner. I was so, so invested in what was happening. At times it was honestly terrifying; throughout the book, Dolssa is being hunted by the ultra-powerful church for heresy, and that threat is constantly hanging over the characters’ heads. But what made this book so scary for me was that that really happened; back then the church had so much power over every little part of peoples’ lives, and like I said above, that was a deceptively frightening part of history that was very, very real.
So if you want to think, feel, and get lost in a world that was more real than we might care to remember, read this book.
Do you like historical fiction? What is one thing that really draws you into a book? Do you like books that make you feel or books that make you think better? Do you think you will read this book?
Content Guide: There is very occasional profanity, both light and a couple instances of the s word. It is briefly mentioned that the main character’s sister sleeps with lots of different men, but no detail is given.